Fear of ghosts

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The Roots of Fear

So why do we fear ghosts and spirits? There are two main reasons.

Fear of ghosts—also known as spectrophobia or phasmophobia—most obviously stems from our fear of the unknown. This is a deep-seated fear that is hardwired into our genetic makeup. The primitive parts of our brain that respond to instinct—a holdover from our cave-dwelling ancestors—flush our bodies with adrenaline when we encounter a threat, preparing us to fight or flee. And when that threat is something unknown that might leap out of the darkness, we’d just as soon flee.

There’s another component to this fear when that something in the dark is perceived as a ghost. After all, a ghost is the manifestation of a person who is dead. So now we are confronted not only with what we think is a threat to our lives, but a representation of death itself. Not only is it an entity that we don’t understand, it is also a resident of the place many of us fear the most—the mysterious land of the dead.

The second main reason we fear ghosts is that we have been further conditioned to do so by popular culture. Almost without exception, books, movies, and television shows portray ghosts as evil, capable of mischief, injury, and even death. If popular media is to be believed, ghosts actually enjoy scaring us out of our wits.

“What Hollywood and television portray is very inaccurate and cannot be relied upon as truthful,” say Lewis and Sharon Gerew of the Philadelphia Ghost Hunters Alliance. “They show these spirits of the dead as being evil in nature, filled with malice and harmful intent. I assure you that this is not the case.”

Creepy, rotting, vengeful ghosts may make exciting movies, but they have very little basis in actual experience.

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